RENO – The Elko boys basketball teamed pulled off the five-peat of I-A North supremacy with a hard-fought victory over South Tahoe on Saturday at North Valleys High School, winning the regional championship 45-43.
The Indians trailed from late in the second quarter clear through the fourth – using all but two seconds of the game before the sealing the deal – even then it wasn’t over.
After building a decent lead in the first quarter, the Vikings came back and earned a four-point halftime lead – holding the advantage through the third period and most of the fourth, losing the lead on a late bucket.
In the first period, Elko junior point guard Eric Klekas opened the scoring with a three on an assist from senior Dustin Baum with 7:15 on the clock.
South Tahoe senior Blake Blocker came around on a curl and scored in the lane for the Vikings, assisting junior Tommy Cefalu for the next South Tahoe bucket with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Klekas banked in a runner to give the Indians a 5-4 lead, and Baum drew a charge on the other end.
The Vikings took a 6-5 lead at the 3:30 mark on an outlet pass for a finish by senior Ethan Strain, followed by a three from Baum to put Elko on top 8-6 with 2:45 remaining.
Elko actually tapped in South Tahoe’s next score while trying to grab a defensive rebound, but Klekas dropped a runner to regain the lead at 10-8.
Junior Kyrin Allen made a steal and scored along the baseline on a reverse, and senior Creighton Cooper made a big rebound and finished with a strong put back – giving the Indians a 14-8 lead after the first quarter.
Allen opened the second with a free throw, followed by a tough three for the Vikings by Blocker.
South Tahoe senior Denzel Perez scored on an offensive rebound to cut Elko’s lead to 15-13 with 5:45 remaining in the half – giving the Vikings the lead with a triple – and he made a steal as Elko tried to move the ball down the floor, finishing at the rim to give the Vikings an 18-15 lead.
Allen trimmed the Viking lead to one with a strong drive down the end line, giving the Indians a 19-18 lead with a steal and two-handed hammer down the lane.
The lead changed hands once again on a three by South Tahoe junior Harry Moses-Chakmakis, but Elko sophomore Jeron Yopps scored on the right block on a great post-entry pass by junior Francisco Mendoza – tying the score at 21-all.
South Tahoe finished the half on a 4-0 run, using a put back by senior Joe Albrecht and a mid-range jumper by Perez.
The Vikings led 25-21 at halftime.
The lead grew to seven points to start the third period on a three by Blocker, and Strain scored on an offensive rebound – extending the advantage to nine at 30-21.
Elko’s offense was anemic for the majority of the third frame, as shots would not fall and open looks were hard to come by.
Klekas finally ended a five-minute drought at the three-minute mark with a deuce, but Cefalu knocked down two free throws for the Vikings after being fouled on an offensive rebound against Elko’s small lineup – Allen and Cooper on the bench, only Yopps in the middle for the Indians.
A timely jumper by Klekas on a pull-up was recorded as a three but changed to a two pointer, and freshman Alex Klekas drew a big charge on a South Tahoe drive.
Eric Klekas recorded the final points of the third quarter, making a left-handed layup to bring the Indians to within five.
The Indians entered the final quarter trailing 32-27, the drive for five-consecutive regional championships in serious jeopardy.
Yopps was fouled and calmly made both free throws, but Strain matched him from the line after grabbing another offensive board.
Allen cut the lead back down to three points with a strong weak-side rebound on a long jumper, finishing on the left block.
Eric Klekas trimmed the deficit to a single point after a steal, but the Vikings had solid ball movement on their next possession – the ball winding up in the hands of Cefalu, who buried a crucial three from the left wing with four minutes remaining.
A defensive foul sent Yopps to the line, and the sophomore stroked the two free throws with the confidence of a four-year player at a critical stage in the game, trimming the lead to at 37-35.
After being fouled on a drive, Eric Klekas tied the game from the line.
The Indians picked up a bad technical foul at a horrible time, sending Strain to the line. He made one of two attempts, but South Tahoe had possession of the ball.
Strain grabbed a huge offensive rebound and scored from the right side, giving the Vikings a 40-37 lead – not for long.
Baum drilled a corner three to tie the game on an assist by Eric Klekas, who followed with a triple of his own to give the Indians a 43-40 lead – not for long.
The score was tied again with 1:30 remaining on another big three by Cefalu, his second on the period.
The Vikings regained possession but committed a turnover with 57 seconds remaining.
Elko called a timeout and elected to spread the floor with players in the corners at half court and along the baseline, killing time off the clock with weaves and handoffs.
The Indians took another timeout with 16 seconds remaining, matched by South Tahoe after seeing Elko’s alignment on the side-out play.
With the game on the line, Elko put the ball in the hands of Eric Klekas, who dribbled around the top of the key until there was about seven seconds on the clock.
Everyone in the building “knew” he was going to shoot the ball, including the South Tahoe players.
As Eric Klekas made his move around the right, high-post elbow, a South Tahoe defender came off his man and moved toward the play to help his teammate who was guarding to Eric Klekas.
The junior made a split-second decision on the fly – the correct one – dishing the ball to the right block, where Yopps had been left alone on the rotation.
Yopps received the pass with less than four seconds on the clock, tossing a shot off-glass and in for Elko – barely avoiding the outstretched hand of the 6-foot-9 Albrecht.
Elko took a 45-43 lead with 1.8 seconds remaining, but the officials put 2.9 seconds on the clock after the play, which was crucial.
The Vikings threw the ball to Moses-Chakmakis, who had time to dribble after the extra second was added, starting from the left at 3/4 court and dribbling toward the middle.
He advanced the ball to midcourt and launched a high-arching runner that seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, on-line all the while.
The shot bounced off the dead-center front of the rim – sending the Elko players, coaches and fans into a frenzy – the league journey complete. Another two inches farther and the shot would have been all net.
Elko gutted out a hard-fought, 45-43 victory to notch its fifth-consecutive league crown.
Eric Klekas led all scorers with 20 points, finishing as the only Elko player in double figures. He knocked down two 3s. Allen finished with nine points, and Yopps scored eight points – saving the biggest two for last.
Baum scored six points, sinking two threes. Cooper scored two points, as only five Indians scored in the game.
Cefalu was the only Viking in double digits, leading South Tahoe with 10 points, including two 3s. Perez and Strain scored nine points apiece, and Blocker finished with eight points.
South Tahoe – 8 – 17 – 7 – 11 – 43 Total
Elko – 14 – 7 – 6 – 18 – 45 Total
“We didn’t play very well, but the kids kept fighting and never gave up,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “South Tahoe has a really good team, and we could not make any shots for a while. That was a very fun game, even more fun that we won.”
The Indians will play in the second semifinal of the state tournament against a familiar foe, the two-time defending champion Clark Chargers, who finished 14-0 in league play during the regular season but lost in the I-A South regional final to the Desert Pines Jaguars.
I-A South champion Desert Pines will play South Tahoe at 4:40 p.m. Friday at Reno High School.
Elko will tip off against Clark at 8 p.m. Friday at Reno High School, looking to return to the state final for the first time since 2014, when the Indians lost to the Chargers. Clark defeated Elko in the 2013 state semifinal.